As John & I prepare our Christmas celebrations, am remembering all the years - so many - when I wondered, "Is this our last Christmas? Where will our country be next December?"
For some reason, those thoughts particularly arose while trimming the tree - back in the early '60s, after Mike was part of the Cuban Blockade & even more intensely after President Kennedy's 11/22/63 assassination; during Vietnam, during the tumult of the early 1970s, the Beirut bombing, the 1987 Stock Market crash, 9/11. How many times did I worry there might not be a next Christmas? Enough to teach me that there is no gain in anticipating the worst, only loss & misery.
Instead, this year I keep finding my thoughts turn to the concept of ruling by divine right. Naturally, images of Louis XIV keep dancing in my head, since he embodied the concept. From antiquity, monarchies were idealized as ordained by God. They wielded God's power on earth. Since monarchs received their power from on High, their authority was absolute, responsible to no one except God.
Americans always scoffed at the idea of the divine right of monarchs; we freed ourselves from the shackles of the British monarchy. But what keeps flittering about my head is how many of my fellow countrymen have an absolute belief that the United States of America is imbued with its own sense of divine right.
It sure seems a lot of folks across this great land of ours believe that the USA went beyond being founded upon divinely inspired principles, to being brought into being by the actual hand of God. It was the idea that we are a divinely ordained nation that fueled the concept of Manifest Destiny, which drove our expansion westward (and gave respectable, even patriotic, cover to a multitude of grievous sins). It's a concept that seems on the upswing in our present day & age.
The idea of America as being imbued with certain divine rights frees us to act in ways we'd find inexcusable in others. Which gets me thinking about sharks.
Wherever there's a shark attack, be it along the Jersey Shore or near the Great Barrier Reef, it's world news. Sharks are our enemy, out to kill as many humans as they can. Last year, 3 people died from a shark attack. That's 3 people, worldwide. Over the same year, conservative figures peg the number of shark deaths, worldwide, by humans at 100,000,000.
We ridicule the belief in a divine right of monarchs, yet our leaders have held to similar concepts - "I am president, ergo I can do no wrong." Richard Nixon stated that, without equivocation. Decades later, so did Dick Cheney, albeit a bit more guarded, but just as clear in his belief that the president can, if he believed the situation required it, act outside the law & - as Executive in Chief - be outside the law.
We Americans think of ourselves as humble folk, salt of the earth & pioneers at heart. But a vast number of Americans hold that no one involved in the unprovoked attack of Iraq should be held responsible for their actions, which lead to the deaths of over 4,000 American men & women and a half-million Iraqis.
Imagine if the average American was told that a government would attack another sovereign nation without provocation, resulting in the deaths of so many Americans & an appalling number of others, then asked if the leaders should be held blameless. They'd call for justice, for at least a war crime tribunal. Just not if the perpetrators are American.
Richard Nixon famously told David Frost, "When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal." Like Louis XIV, he believed the Supreme Commander is responsible to no one. He is president, ergo what he does is legal.
Many Americans seem to feel much the same. We consider a shark attack against a person to be worldwide news, but worldwide humans kill 100,000,000 sharks.
We are a nation beset with fears of terrorist attacks, while our government launches drone attacks across the Middle East that kill countless innocent people. But they are them & we are US.
Three human deaths v. 100,000,000 slaughtered sharks. Where is our love of protecting lives? Oh, yeah - OUR lives. What's true for sharks sadly seems true for many "others," too.
I might be one of relatively few Americans who are not worrying this Christmas season that it might be my last. Through years of worrying, I've learned to remain at peace.
One of my Christmas wishes is that Americans become less myopic, that they start to at least be curious about why people around the world are so angry at America - and their reasons go far beyond "because we love freedom & liberty."
Another is that we distance ourselves from any concept of the USA has being a nation founded through the direct grace of Almighty God, who will protect us if only we stay true to our most fundamental interpretation of the Bible, especially the Old Testament.
A third is that we, as a nation & a people, learn to have a greater sense of humility, to step past our obsession with "others" as alien & ourselves as somehow allowed to act without fear of retribution.
The whole mash-up of divine rights & grace leads only to wretchedness. We need to see that it exists in our nation, need to acknowledge it is about as anti-American as can be, and give it the boot. Let there be peace on earth & let it begin with US!